Yet Another Reason to Mislike the Controversial Austrian Statesman

He cut off the supply of German nudist magazines to British, err, enthusiasts, as JB Priestley reported in 1937 (courtesy of Obscene Desserts):

'I went into [a wine bar in Southampton]; and it had a surprising succession of Ye Olde panelled rooms, in one of which I drank a shilling glass of moderate sherry and listening  to four citizens talking earnestly about German nudist papers, their supply having recently been cut off by Hitler. Their interest in these papers was genuine but not of a kind to commend itself to the leaders of the nudist movement.'

Silly English perverts! They just didn't know where to look. The Nazis embraced Freikörperkultur, officially legalized nude bathing in 1942, and employed photographers such as Hans Suren to document National Socialist hotness:

Behold those magnificent Teutonic tufts!

More here (g).

Heino’s Hideous Handicap

Rumors have circulated about Heino, the German pop star whom Lonely Planet once immortally dubbed a 'tranquilized albino Ken doll', for many a year. The reason? He is never seen in public without dark sunglasses. Some say it's because his eyes are an eerie reddish rat-eye color, or because he's abnormally photosensitive, or because he's German. But I believe this album cover, found at a blog post called Worst Album Covers of All Time, has solved the mystery:

Mommy, why didn't you open the door to let me give you these? Why did I have to break through a basement window and poison Fido?
Heino, the albino baker's apprentice turned German Schlager legend, has strabismus, also known as heterotropia! Now personally, I can't see why this should have driven the man to don dark glasses. I happen to find strabismus extremely attractive in women (please lift the restraining order, Condi! I've learned my lesson!). But I suppose EMI Germany's crack mid-70s market research gurus soon concluded that Heino was just a bit too Marty Feldmanian to inspire swooning fits among the frumpy Hausfraus who remain his target audience. By the way, the single is called "Dear Mother…A Bouquet that Never Wilts." I'm not sure whether he's giving his mother this or comparing her to one, but either way, I should call my mother.

One other thing. Why is it that posts that promise you the "Worst Album Covers of All Time" routinely include some of the best album covers of all time? Case in point:

Is it just me, or did everyone sweat more in the 1970s?

Ed Philp Reviews the Hunger Games

Sometime guest-blogger Ed Philp has a neat sneak preview of the movie sensation of the year in the US which will probably be the movie sensation of the year in Germany soon:

Hi, it’s Ed Philp, gratefully guest-blogging for a “Retourkutsche” post (is there an equivalent word in English?). Germany needs to prepare itself for the next installment of verifiably non-European teenage entertainment that is about to arrive at cinemas throughout the country, namely, the movie version of the bestselling book  “The Hunger Games”, or “Panem” for the German version.

 The Hunger Games is a quintessentially American teenager book (yes, I am aware that the Japanese Battle Royale preceded it). It posits a dystopian future in which – as a result of various events – the US is divided into various districts and the Capitol. Each year, the Capitol organizes “Hunger Games” in which teenage participants fight to the death until there is one survivor, egged on by millions of (semi-compelled) viewers. US entertainment has a very long tradition in this genre; Blade Runner, Stephen King’s The Long Walk, and many others. What makes The Hunger Games somewhat unique?

 It is pitched to teenagers, involves virtually no sex among 17 year old protagonists (if I recall, the heroine of the book had never kissed anyone before being drafted into the Games, and then did it only under duress for various complicated survival reasons), and includes remarkable levels of violence. Poisoning, knifing, spear-throwing, animal mauling and several explosive endings all play a role in ensuring that the final couple make it the end of the Games. Sound a little bit familiar? It’s Twilight on steroids (chaste love story that otherwise features dismemberment, murder, the walking dead and pledges of love “to the death”).

 The book leaves various components of the story open: We are provided in the book with remarkably little information on the protagonists, Katniss and Peeta, except that one has “breasts” (mentioned once during the book) and one has blond wavy hair and is strong and compact, like all bakers. The film fills in these details, of course casting exceptionally good looking people in the roles. The sexual tension/pitch will be immediately evident just based on the trailer. These two perfect examples of teenage male and female will ultimately get together and… produce babies (which is indeed how the whole Hunger Games series ends). In the meantime, wholesale slaughter will ensue. Once again, it is remarkable how US culture shuns natural sexual relations while placing a premium on ultraviolence. The entire Hunger Games book turns on the various vivid ways in which people die, have died, will die.

 I imagine that The Hunger Games will be avidly watched in the US, and I somehow suspect that it will make particular inroads in various conservative districts. What story could be more compelling in an election year – an essentially fascist Capitol holds an honest, simple and hardworking (largely agrarian and trade-oriented) District population in bondage, forcing them to serve up their prime and innocent youth for the spectacle of the elite masses each year. The only social construct on which one can have any reliance is family and maybe friends. Homespun regional traditions and icons loom large as symbols of resistance to the Capitol. Individual resourcefulness and essentially god-given luck play a role, as do cunning, Teamwork and social collaboration are paths to doom. Individual sacrifice is accorded its due, but collective sacrifice is never an option. Those closest to the ground (who know how to hunt birds with a bow and arrow) are of course the best off, since guns have – of course – been confiscated and prohibited. Other nations and a global economy do not exist in the storyline. In numerous instances, salvation – coming from the sky – is provided through essentially capitalist elements, namely sponsorship by donors. Private charity is key to those in dire circumstances; public welfare does not exist. The “public” and the state are, as a whole, the enemy.

 I’ll be extremely interested to see the German reaction to this most American of movies. I, for one, have already reserved tickets. This will be a small cultural icon, and I want to see how it is received here.

As for me, I have remained completely ignorant of the HG hype up to now, not out of any aversion, but just because I like to see movies completely, stone-cold ignorant of everything about them. In fact, for precisely this reason, I didn't even read Ed's review, so I hope he didn't anything defamatory in there…

Julie Knew her Killer

A while back, Boing Boing hosted a collection of grisly, horrifying British public-service ads. My favorite:

Still and all, if there's any area in which Germany could beat the Brits, I would imagine it would be in grisly, no-holds-barred public service ads. Any help, readers?

German Joys Review: Canton Chrono 509 Loudspeakers

  Canton 509s
My trusty 12-year-old Paradigm loudspeakers finally began showing their age, so I went shopping for some new speakers, and finally settled on a pair of Canton Chrono 509s. What convinced me was Canton's solid reputation, and the unanimity of the 5-star reviews on German Amazon (g). These speakers have delighted both punters and pros. Plus, the price has been cut in half (g) since Canton brought out newer series. They were getting ratings of 'oustanding' price/performance ration even when they used to cost over €1000, and now you can get them for under €400. An unbelievable bargain.

I've now had them for a week, and am absolutely delighted. The bass is rich and detailed, the highs crystal-clear, and the mid-ranges and tweeters handle Renaissance choral music (a big part of my collection) with aplomb, which is often a challenge for other speakers. The soundstage is magnificent — I'm listening to Bernstein's recording of Mahler's 4th right now (my second-favorite after Tennstedt's magnificently joyous, spontaneous, albeit slightly messy version), and the horns are beautifully detailed, the strings mellifluous and glowing, and the climaxes smooth and swelling. The sleigh bells are so vivid and localized that you can almost reach out and touch them. Jazz and guitar-based pop also sounds quite good, although the Canton's give you a more well-rounded, slightly subdued sound than the aggressive, ripping tone you might get from more rock-oriented loudspeakers. House and drum & bass are just stunning: the mid-ranges and treble sounds float with millimeter-precise spatial placement over a magnificantly bulbous, tumescent bass that retains a clear tonal profile even as it rocks your world.

I also bought a Canton AS 85.2 subwoofer — the first subwoofer I've ever bought — which is also doing yeoman service. However, the bass is quite rich even without it — the subwoofer just makes it bone-shaking. I probably didn't really need the subwoofer, but it is nice to have.

As for appearance, they're pretty much standard big black oblongs, but still relatively unobtrusive and extremely solidly-built and stable.

German precision engineering at its finest!

¡Ay Madre de Dios! ¡Que Lastima!

Via Chateau Heartiste, a joyfully non-PC blog which brings the merciless insights of evolutionary psychology to bear on the dating landscape in advanced capitalist societies in the Global North, comes this priceless anecdote, from a Village Voice article about guys who dig morbidly obese women:

“There aren’t many fat girls in Spain,” reports Charlotte, who spent six months as an exchange student there in 2006. Back then, she weighed 425 [that's a dainty193 kilos – ed.], and she claims that the department organizers at her Northeastern women’s college tried to dissuade her from going abroad because she was “too big.” She balked and went anyway, though she admits European daily life was far more taxing: The public bathrooms were “itty-bitty,” the online clothes retailers she frequents didn’t service Spain (Lane Bryant’s sizes are too small for her), and walking was the primary method of transportation. “Anytime I would walk down the street, people would stare at me like I was a circus sideshow. Here, people kind of like glance out of their eyes, but there people would stop and stare as I walked by.”

One time in Spain, an old woman spotted Charlotte in public, stopped abruptly, and crossed herself. “Like I was Satan.”

Here you have a nice anecdote that helps explain why urban density and car-dependency have helped made America the fattest country on earth. I have to admit, the old woman crossing herself made me laugh. I can't imagine how Charlotte made it. It gets to be 35+ degrees in Spain in the summer, day after day, and air-conditioning is often hard to find. As David Letterman once said, 'Think of the chafing'!

The Decline of Employer-Paid Health Insurance

Whenever Europeans ask me about health care in the United States, I always have to set aside some time to explain that most (non-elderly, non-poor) Americans get health insurance through their employer. Europeans find this difficult to understand, because it seems so weird and arbitrary — getting health insurance from the company that employs you makes just about as much sense as getting vaccinations from your plumber. Yet that's the way it works for many Americans. And it creates problems largely unknown in the rest of the industrialized world — in particular, people stuck in jobs they don't like because they can't afford to lose their health insurance.

But, as Kevin Drum reports, the situation is changing fast:

Over the past decade, the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance has dropped from about 70% down to nearly 50%. Note that this is for the non-elderly only, so it's not due to the aging of society or the growth of Medicare. This is working-age people only. As Krugman says, our weird employer-based health insurance scheme is "coming apart at the seams."

Most Americans simply have no clue how bizarre it is that we rely on employers to provide health insurance for most people. We've all grown up in this sytem, so it seems completely normal. But it's not. It happened through a weird combination of historical accidents, and it makes no sense. Why should an airplane manufacturer also be in the healthcare business? Why should you lose your health insurance if you get laid off? Why should your choice of doctor be limited by your employer's choice of insurance carrier? (And why should it change whenever your employer decides to change carriers?) Why should your boss be allowed to dock your paycheck if you don't get the medical "counseling" he deems necessary? (Yes, this is real. And it's rapidly making its way to a corporation near you.)

“Europeans Can’t Blog”

The new Bruegel blog surveys the European blog landscape and finds it pretty pathetic (h/t MTW). Read the whole thing, but here are the hight points:

It is striking to note that the online debate about European economic issues mostly takes place on American blogs. A couple of European blogs have contributed to change this landscape, but the European blogosphere remains behind the US in terms of quality and density of discussion.

As Ronny Patz noted in a recent post (hat tip to the European blogs aggregator bloggingportal), European blogs are still very much “unconnected”. That is, they use hyperlinks far less than their American counterparts or do it and in a way that doesn’t create two-way debate. In brief, Europe has bloggers, but no blogosphere: it lacks a living ecosystem to exchange and debate. Of most leading European blogs, only 1 in 5 were linked to other online content. This is a pretty striking number but one that is somewhat consistent with the use that Europeans make of blogs (ie. just another media but not an interactive one).

As Ronny puts its:

Euroblogs quite often do not refer to discussions on other euroblogs. Linking to some newspaper article, even with a discussion section, does not create a two-way discussion (…) and linking to articles on your own blog is nice, but not really a sign of an interlinked blogosphere. What this means is that it is difficult to speak of a “euroblogosphere” in the narrow sense, because this implies some kind of level of interconnectedness. I don’t really see that in our sphere outside a narrow circle of people.

Ronny is right but there are certainly a few of reasons for that.

First, economic discussions in Europe remain for the most part national and simply do not take place online outside of a few exceptions….

… But except a few exceptions like Kantoos who write posts in both German and English, this blogosphere remains mostly national and self-referencing.

Second,  there are probably also “cultural” reasons behind that phenomenon. Europeans don’t have “debate” classes in High School and they tend to have far less confrontational academic discussions (we have nothing as direct and antagonistic as the Cochrane/Hubbard vs. Krugman/DeLong for instance). European economists seem to prefer spreading knowledge rather than stirring debate. VoxEU, Telos, the column section at Eurointelligence, and the new OFCE blog all provide avenues to disseminate research and to express opinions, but are not, so to speak, blogs with arguments and disagreements.

This is unfortunate as it certainly reduces the overall quality of debate. As Paul Krugman puts it for the US

“we’ve seen some famous names run into firestorms of criticism – *justified* criticism – even as some “nobodies” become players. That’s a good thing! Famous economists have been saying foolish things forever; now they get called on it."

The recent episode surrounding the debate on bubbles and potential output where a Fed official directly responded to US bloggers was a striking illustration of the role that the American blogosphere has been playing on actual policy debates in the last few years. But while American “star economists” do not hesitate to battle in an arena where readers and critics do not necessarily match their credentials, European economists continue to view the econ blogosphere as a distraction from discussion with the very serious people….